Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy Birthday Chris Van Dusen - March 17

Happy Birthday Chris Van Dusen - March 17

Every March we are reminded of the impact Dr. Seuss has had on all of our lives. Some of us have been influenced more than others, but we all have a memory of an encounter with one of his books either as a child or as an adult.  It is mind boggling to think how Dr. Seuss's creativity has changed or altered our world. His books produce a ripple effect of positive interactions -- children and parents read together, teachers inspire, librarians plan special programs, and writers write new stories.

Chris Van Dusen, like many of us, was inspired by Dr. Seuss.  He is an illustrator-author of over a dozen books for children.  His books include If I Built a Car which was inspired by Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo and If I Ran the Circus He also wrote King Hugo's Huge Ego that was inspired by Dr. Seuss's early books like The 500 Hats of Bartholmew Cubbins. (bookshelfbanter).  He began his freelance illustrating career in 1988 and published his first book, Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee in 2000, after working on it for nine years (BookFest 2011 Keynote).  He was awarded the E.B. White Read Aloud Award in 2006 for If I Built a Car. Van Dusen is also the illustrator of one of our favorite chapter book series, Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo (Her birthday is near, March 25).

Chris Van Dusen, in my opinion, is a throwback illustrator-author. In a time when the computer has become an important tool for many illustrators, Chris Van Dusen continues to paint all of his work.  His medium of choice is gouache, which is a water based paint. He has described his illustrations as "painterly cartoons" which is "similar to early cartoons only much more refined." (Library Thing).  Often, new authors like myself are warned against writing books in verse, Van Dusen writes all his books with rhymes that are a joy to read aloud. "I think a story in rhyme just sort of sets a mood for the whole book. My stories, my books tend to be kind of these whimsical sort of silly adventures.  And I think the rhyme adds to sort of the wackiness, sort of the silliness, the whimsy of the story."  (Reading Rockets)

This week we read many of Van Dusen's books that were a pleasure to read aloud and had unbelievably cool illustrations.  The one book that stood out as my children's favorite was King Hugo's Huge Ego.  The story is about a very short king that has a spell cast upon him by a sorceress that makes his head expand every time he gloats.  Chris Van Dusen said, "There's a lot of big egos in the world today and little kids may not necessarily know what an ego is.  I try to explain it in the book and I think it's pretty well explained." (Reading Rockets). When we read the book a second time I knew this was the book that was resonating with them and I knew I needed to come up with a birthday celebration activity to bring this book to life.  I think it was the third or maybe the fourth time reading it that the illustration spread of King Hugo's head expanding popped an idea into my head.
Every time he claimed to be
the greatest in the land,
the king perceived a tingle
and felt his head expand.
To celebrate Chris Van Dusen, we made papier mache King Hugo Heads.  My children love to papier mache! I love it because it is something they all can do and enjoy together!
My daughter and I cut a slit in the bottom of a yogurt container and pressed the tied end of the balloon through.  While doing this, the boys made the papier mache mixture (2 parts water, 1 part flour, pinch of salt).  We then taped the balloon end on inside of the yogurt container to make sure it wasn't going to work its way out of the slit.
Our balloons were ready to be covered.  We chose to make the balloons different sizes just like the expanding head of Hugo in the illustration, but also because they represented the different sizes of my four children.
My oldest daughter set to work covering the largest balloon, the boys covered the middle two, and I covered the smallest one for my youngest daughter.
We learned that this design worked best by adding newspaper strips covered with the mixture where the balloon meets the yogurt container right away.  This stabilized the balloon and kept it from tipping over.  These King Hugo Heads dried over night.
The next morning the boys couldn't wait to paint their King Hugo Heads.  We had a brief talk about how this painting experience was going to be different than others we had because it wasn't a flat piece of paper.
Time to paint!
My son thought it was easier to paint the King Hugo Head while it rested on a box.
Looking good so far!  We let this dry for about 30 minutes before adding additional details.
It was a perfect time to make a crown.  We used yellow paper, a hole punch, and a string.  Since, King Hugo's head was expanding his crown no longer fit so he needed a string to hold it on.
Adding the details to the face.
Why is he so excited?
This is why!  His King Hugo turned out great!
After the boys finished their Hugos it was the girls' turn the next day.  This was our daughter's first experience with a paintbrush.
 She is a serious artist!
"I need a bath!"
My oldest daughter added her final touches to her King Hugo Head!
But he continued bragging
in his overstated way--
and so his head kept bloating
bulging bigger every day!
Thank you Chris Van Dusen for creating books that we found both enjoyable to read aloud and to explore with our eyes!

Check Out Chris Van Dusen's Latest Two Books:

1. Chris Van Dusen's Website
2. Video Interview - Reading Rockets
3. National Book Festival 2011 - Library of Congress, YouTube (He reads King Hugo's Huge Ego starting at 32:44!)
4. Text Interview - Reading Today Online, Parent Express, Bookshelf Banter, Library Thing
5. Chris Van Dusen Teacher's Guide - from Candlewick (link on left hand side)
6. Mercy Watson Teacher's Guide - from Candlewick (link on left hand side)
7. Chris Van Dusen Talks About If I Built a Car - YouTube
8. Chris Van Dusen's Studio - YouTube


  1. Love the idea that "popped" into your head!
    Happy Birthday to Chris Van Deusen!

    1. Thanks Iza! My kids "blew" me away with their efforts on this project!

  2. What a fab craft and I've read Down to the sea... it's great! Happy Birthday, Chris Van Deusen.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Catherine! I agree Mr. Magee is great!


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